Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Into the Hills, Bhachchek in Gorkha District (Nepal 2017-14)

We rode in a minivan west out of the Kathmandu valley on the winding, rutted, bumpy Kathmandu-Pokkhara highway. The road is choked with truck traffic because this is the major supply route for goods and petroleum products imported from India. All fuel used in Kathmandu is trucked in, which, as you can imagine, leads to miserable traffic jams on the twisty mountain roads and nasty diesel emissions along the way.
We lunched (dahl baht of course) in Anbu Khaireni, a bustling commercial town in the Gandaki District. We had been following the Andhi Khola River downstream. We saw groups in kayaks and rafts, but the high levels of pollution and sewage dumping would make me dubious of the pleasures of rafting this waterway. In Anbu Khaireni, we switched from the comfortable minivan to primitive Mahindra jeeps.
After a few hours pounding uphill, it was time for tea break in Amppipal, a dusty little town in the foothills in the Gorkha District. There is a hospital in the town operated by a German NGO.
Finally, we reached our destination, the village of Bhachchek at 1790 m (5900 ft) elevation. Tourists are a bit uncommon here; the local folks were unfailingly friendly but thought we were a bit odd. Children especially found us fascinating. The streets are packed mud. I would hate to be here in the wet season.
A surprising number of small shops line the streets. They sell beer and goods from India, such as plastic ware, tools, biscuits, clothing, cooking oil, and simple cosmetics.
From what we could tell, many of the goods come up the mountain in wagons pulled by these sturdy Mahindra tractors. The wagons do not have suspension (just rubber tires), and as a result, they clang and bang noisily.
Dusk usually meant darkness and extra chickens taking their evening constitutional before heading for the roost. Some days featured a few hours of mains electricity, some days none. One night I woke up with a light shining in my face because the power had started up.
We stayed in these little cabins. The lady who ran the place cooked heroically for us, but we could tell she was unfamiliar with tourists. For example, if we wanted extra tea or eggs, she often had to send a boy to a nearby shop to fetch a package. The shower water was cold, but a large wood-fired boiling pot was set up near the huts. The toilets were rough (surprise...). My hut was the one on the very left, behind a white shirt on the line. Just beyond the corrugated metal barrier was a chicken coop. The rooster made his 04:00 noises, followed by clucking and scratching. The country life....

The black and white photographs are from Ilford Delta 100 film exposed in a Leica IIIC camera with 50mm f/2.0 Summitar lens (both from 1949). The last picture is from a Nexus 4 mobile.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A River Flows through Kathmandu: the Bishnumati (Nepal 2017-13)

Two rivers flow through the Kathmandu Valley. The main one is the Bagmati, which separates Kathmandu from Patan. It is considered holy by both Hindus and Buddhists. It rises in the Himalaya north of the Kathmandu valley and, after a major right and left turn in the city, flows generally south towards India through the Lesser Himalaya. The Bishnumati River also originates north of Kathmandu and flows through the western part of old Kathmandu. It joins the Bagmati in the southern part of the city about 3/4 mile south of Kathmandu Durbar Square. Both rivers are a mess. They have received  untreated sewage for decades, trash, old car bodies, and general detritus of a city without pollution controls.
Bishnumati River, view N from Swayambhu Marg Bridge

The view north from the Swayanbhu Marg bridge is rather discouraging. The river smells (OK, stinks), and there is trash and sludge in the water. The gravel berm or levee on the right in the water is perplexing. Is it to prevent flooding of some feature on the banks? A stream comes in from the left near the bridge in the distance. Possibly the berm is designed to prevent the flow from striking the bank on the right and causing erosion. Also note the broad gravel/sand bank on the left. The city maintenance workers should remove this gravel to allow the river greater flow capacity during flood.
Bishnumati River, view S from Swayambhu Marg Bridge

The view to the south is also discouraging. But there was a tractor digging in the gravel bank. I hope they intended to truck the material away. There are major brick works south of Kathmandu, and almost surely there are plenty of clay pits and excavations that could accept this excess riverine sediment.
About 1 mile west of the Bishnumati River is the Swoyambhunath Stupa. From the east, you ascend several thousand steps to the temple complex on a hilltop. It is a crowded scene with vendors, tourists, and Buddhists from many countries. The woods and general grounds are pretty trashy. Monkeys live in the woods and thrive picking food scraps.
I will only show two pictures from the main temple grounds of the Swoyambhunath Stupa. The site has shoulder-to-shoulder people. Many of the old buildings were terribly damaged by the 2015 earthquake. Most were made of unreinforced bricks, and the walls tumbled down in the earthquake. We saw construction crews laboriously rebuilding structures by hand.
The first three photographs were taken on Tmax 100 film with a Leica IIIC rangefinder camera with 50mm f/2.0 Summitar lens and a medium yellow filter. The scenes at the Swoyambhunath Stupa were from a Nexus 4 phone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Mississippi Delta 26: New Hope MB Church, Estill

In October of 2017, the Mississippi Heritage trust announced its 2017 list of 10 Most Endangered Properties. On the list was a handsome wood church in the hamlet of Estill, north of Hollandale. I had never heard of the site before, so my wife and I checked it on our early April Delta trip. The church is on Walcott Road just north of the intersection with Avon-Darlove Road.

From the Heritage Trust:
New Hope Missionary Baptist Church-Estill
Nominated by Kendall Aldridge

New Hope Missionary Baptist Church is a rare example of an early twentieth century rural African American Delta church. Constructed in 1918, the building survived the great flood of 1927 because of its close proximity to Deer Creek, which is higher than the surrounding land.  A wood-framed building with hints of Gothic Revival style in the infilled pointed arches, the abandoned church has several large holes in the roof, allowing rain to poor in.  In addition to the leaking roof, there are cracks between much of the clapboard siding, allowing water to blow in during a storm.
 You can see the pride that the original founders took in their church from the engraved corner stones.
The church was closed, but I could take one interior picture by holding my phone against a glass pane. While walking around, a gent in a truck and a lady in a car stopped and asked if I was going to restore the church. I assume they were aware of the listing on the most endangered list, but I had to disappoint them that I had no connection with any restoration efforts. The lady said she lived on the adjoining farm. She said there were many pictures of river immersion baptisms from decades ago. I checked on the Library of Congress holdings but did not find any such pictures.

These snapshots are from a Motorola Moto G5 mobile phone. I also took some real photographs on Kodak Ektar 25 film with a Rolleiflex, but these need to be developed and scanned. Please wait for an update.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Perched on the heights: Chiwong Monastery, Solu Khumbu, Nepal (Nepal 2017-12)

Chiwong Monastery with Phaplu airstrip in the distance
Dear Readers, this is the last monastery that my friends and I visited during our circle trek in the Solu Khumbu. The Chiwong Monastery is perched on the edge of a steep mountain - almost a cliff - with a stunning view to the south. The town of Phaplu is in the distance, and the residents of the monastery can monitor the aircraft flying up the valley, making an abrupt turn, and dropping down onto the airstrip.

Chiwong Monastery has a web page:
The Chiwong Monastery was founded by the late Sangey Lama, in 1923. Sangey Lama’s ancestors, and all Sherpa people, have their origins in Kham, in northeastern Tibet. They migrated to the Everest region of the Solu Khumbu and made their home there, some 500 years ago.

At one time, the Chiwong Monastery echoed with the prayers and scholastic activities of the many monks and nuns that resided there. The monastery has a proud history, having been home to several spiritual leaders and learned monks. Chiwong Monastery had the privilege of hosting Dza-Rong-Phuk Sangey Ngawang Tenzing Jangpo, from 1955-1958. And, His Holiness Trulshig Rinpoche lived at the monastery from 1960-1967.
The monastery has a modern guest house built only a few years ago by an Italian organization. From the guest rooms, it was a steep walk uphill to the main buildings. I do not have any pictures of the older buildings. They were hard to capture because of the steep topography, but in the first photograph, you can see the complex from the ridge top.
This monastery also serves as a school for boys of various ages. Most eat in a group, but at every meal, 3 or 4 of the younger boys eat with the older monks to socialize them to the upper echelons of the establishment.
We has some of the best food on our trek here. We were invited to eat with the senior monks.

The Lepon (aka Abbot) of Chiwong Gompa was a humble man who rose to that position from a village background. As a boy, he had trained at the Buddhist Academy in Serlo (described in an earlier post). His personality and personal philosophy led to his rise to the top and his approach to running a monastery full of young students. My friend, Don Messerschmidt could converse with the Lipon because both spoke village-level Nepali. The Lipon told us he had been to New York. That must have been quite a cultural and noise shock.
As usual, the kitchen offered some interesting scenes with hard side-lighting. The middle frame of the young man washing his hands had a light leak or some bad flare.
Some of the younger students had their dahl baht outside on the porch. I noticed they were using spoons rather than their fingers.
The monastery also fed our porters. The kitchens in these monasteries are big operations, as you have seen in my various pictures from this and other Nepali monasteries.

Black and white photographs were from Tmax 400 film exposed in a Leica IIIC camera with 50mm f/2.0 Summitar lens (1949 vintage).

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Hanging around in Junbesi, rural Nepal (Nepal 2017-11)

On the Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp trail, approaching Junbesi.
The cheerful Sherpa town of Junbesi was our base for visits to nearby monasteries and for some trekking. The town is in a valley which opens up to the south and is surrounded by both forest and verdant farm fields. This area has not been deforested to the degree suffered by many other  parts of Nepal, which has led to myriad environmental consequences, such as soil erosion, runoff, and flash flooding.
We stayed in the Apple Garden Guest House & Restaurant, which was clean and cheerful. The rooms were clean and the food was good, but the toilets and wash facilities needed work (typical in most of the country).
Room with a View - from the Apple Garden Guest House.
Pack explosion = room with a mess. In the Apple Garden Guest House.
Entering town from the south, you are welcomed by a chorten with prayer wheels on all four sides. You are supposed to circle a chorten clockwise, meaning pass to the left, and spin the prayer wheels for good fortune and health. Chortens are found throughout the country, and range from huge structures in the city to small units on trails, villages or mountain cols. They serve as a religious focal point in the town or countryside and have a positive effect on the people who live nearby or pass alongside. "Building a chorten is an especially karmic act, helping to ensure fortunate rebirths."
Late tomatoes still ripening in the sun.
Toilet brushes ripening in the sun.
Most of Junbesi is cheerfully painted and in good maintenance. Some of the stores have odd items on display. A couple of my co-travelers found plenty of beer for sale.

We met an Australian dentist who comes to Junbesi once or twice a year to treat local residents. He had a clinic in a small building which was equipped, he said, to do most procedures that he might encounter. He brought most of his supplies with him when he came from Australia. For fillings, he used composite resin. He told me no longer used silver amalgam because the material was too heavy and there was the issue of disposing of waste. The day we talked, he was awaiting nuns to come down the mountain from the Thupten Chöling Monastery.
A short distance up-valley is another prosperous Sherpa town, Phungmoche. This photograph was from the trail that leads uphill to the Thubten Choling monastery.
I have already written about the Thupten Chöling Monastery before, so will only show one photograph. Drying barley in the sun is a common late autumn activity throughout Nepal.
A short distance below Junbesi, a lady was sipping her tea in the town of Benighat.
The boys of Benighat, cheerful and optimistic.
The photographs with grain are from Kodak Ektar 100 film, shot with a 35mm Yashica Electro 35CC camera. The grain-free photographs are from a Nexus 4 phone.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Learning and peace, the Himalaya Buddhist Academy of Serlo (Nepal 2017-10)

The Himalaya Buddhist Academy at Serlo, in the southern Solu Khumbu, perches on a sunny hillside at 2870 m above the town of Junbesi. The Tibetian name is Ngagyur Sergon Lungrig Sheddup Zungdel Ling (Higher Buddhist Studies and Research Center). It was founded in 1959 by Ven. Khenpo Sangye Tenzin (1924 - 1990), a scholar and teacher who had trained in Tibet. After the brutal Chinese invasion of Tibet, many monks/scholars fled south to Nepal and set up schools or monasteries to preserve Buddhist teachings and traditions. The traditional Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp trail comes by the front of the monastery, so the monks and students see many tourists in the trekking seasons.
My friends and I hiked up from Junbesi on a cheerful sunny day. The students were glad to see us. They were especially impressed because my friend, Don Messerschmidt, speaks fluent Nepali. We received the royal treatment, including tea and Digestive Biscuits.
Some of the boys were practicing to make torma from barley flour and water. The torma is decorated with butter sculpture, known as chopa. The boys practice making shapes such as disks, dots, lunar crescents, and flower petals.
The more skilled boys make amazingly intricate shapes. In the lower picture, a teacher is grading them on their workmanship.

The students come from Nepal, India, and occasionally from further away. Many Nepali families send their children to be trained at the monastery. At about age 18, they can opt to remain or leave and return to the regular commercial world. They live in dormitories on site.
The monastery is partly self-contained. The monks and students grow vegetables and barley on the hillsides. And they make their clothes on sturdy treadle sewing machines.
Once again, the kitchen was an interesting place, with shiny pots and mugs and very directional light. In this monastery, the cook is a professional contractor, not a monk. They use some gas, which is brought in. A road links the monastery to Junbesi, so trucks can bring in supplies.

The black and white photographs are from Kodak Tmax 400 film taken with a Leica IIIC rangefinder camera and a 50mm f/2 Summitar lens.